Introduction to Mavericks of the Mind
The term “paradigm shift” was coined by Thomas Kuhn in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1961. It was an attempt to describe the changes that occur in the Belief Systems (BS for short) of scientists, concerning how they interpret their data, and how scientific models evolve. Paradigms are the glasses that one sees through which color how and what we see. When they shift, so does the world. Today it’s almost a cliché to speak about new paradigm shifts occurring. Paradigms are shifting kaleidoscopically these days. This makes sense in light of the fact that–according to the latest reports from quantum physicists–we inhabit a universe that is composed of undulating vibrations, oscillating in continuously and infinitely varied rhythms and frequencies. The universe is filled with ambiguity and mystery. It is a shifting cascade of relativistic perspectives, where nothing is really quite solid, and we exist as mostly empty space and waves of possible probabilities. Our beliefs are the brain’s attempt to freeze the flow of matter and energy into fixed states, so we can grasp onto something familiar and tangible in a shifting sea too grand for us to ever fully comprehend.
Paradigms originate from, and exist only within, the framework of the human mind, but they lead to technological progress and social transformation in the material world. In your hands is a collection of in-depth interviews with some of the extraordinary minds from whom these new world views, and ultimately new world and social structures, are emerging. Within these pages we meet with some of the most creative and controversial thinkers on the intellectual frontiers of art and science – the mavericks, those who have stepped outside the boundaries of consensus thought, sometimes risking their careers, always risking ridicule. These are experts from various fields who have seen beyond the normal and traditional view, who are concerned with the problems facing modern day society, and who have traveled beyond the edges of the established horizons to find their answers. In questioning old belief systems these remarkable individuals have gained revolutionary insights into the nature of consciousness, and with intelligence, clarity, and wit they offer some enlightening proposals for the potential future of humanity.
Inside these maverick minds we tiptoe along the fringes of reason, exploring the realms of morphic fields, chaos theory, virtual reality, quantum philosophy, the possibilities of time travel, extraterrestrials, nanotechnology, and out-of-body experiences. We discussed such general themes with them as technology, ecology, God, psychedelics, death, and the future evolution of consciousness. We learned a lot from doing these interviews, but most importantly we got a very strong sense of optimism and hope from these people. In a world infested with pessimism, fear, and doubt, these individuals offer fresh perspectives and possibilities. Taken together, common underlying holistic themes emerge in these interviews of new world views that are at once analytical and intuitive, compassionate and wise, practical and imaginative in their perspectives.
“Inspiration,” Allen Ginsberg told us? “means to breath in.” The original inspiration for this book partly grew out of our desire to meet with people whose writing had had a great impact on us. Wild late-night philosophical discussions that Rebecca McClen Novick and I had on the nature of reality and exploration of consciousness provided the alchemical ignition that got the fire burning. Why not, we thought in a grandiose moment of audacious innocent inspiration, seek out some of the most brilliant brains and illuminated luminaries around, and see what they have to say on the subject. We wanted to somehow tie them all together, into a larger, grander, more comprehensive view.
We figured that as a man/woman team we could interview these people from a more holistic perspective than any single person. It was very interesting that when Rebecca and I would collaborate on questions, we would usually brainstorm separately, then share ideas and mutually arrange the sequence of the questions later. Almost every time we both thought that we had covered the spectrum of important points ourselves, and we were astonished to discover that we had relatively unique lists of questions with suprisingly very little overlap. This demonstrated to us the biases of our own perspectives, and could be suggestive of the inherent difference in how male and female brains differ in their thinking.
Our central source of fascination was the timeless mystery of consciousness. It is our very sense of self–the most mysterious and mundane aspect of existence, the most essential part of us–and yet we don’t know what it is, where it comes from, or where it’s going. It is all around us in many forms, and yet when we try to define it–that is, to draw a boundary around it and distinguish it from the rest of the universe–it suddenly becomes extremely elusive. Alan Watts told us that the paradox that we experience when trying to understand consciousness is like an eyeball trying to see itself (without a mirror), or teeth trying to bite themselves. We are our own blind spots.
How does consciousness arise? Can consciousness leave the body? Is it limited to human brains, or does it exist elsewhere in other forms? What is consciousness made of! What changes it? How and why? What happens to consciousness after physical death? What do quantum physics, chaos theory, sociobiology, neurophysiology, and morphic field resonance suggest to us about the nature and potentials of consciousness? Where are we when we’re lucid dreaming? Do intelligent extraterrestrials exist? What is consciousness evolving into? How does the world change when consciousness changes? These are some of the questions we–with the help of some extremely gifted thinkers–try to take on in this ambitious book.
One thing for sure about consciousness is that–like matter and energy, time and space-it changes, flows, and there are varying degrees of it. Some people, neurobiologists for the most part, think consciousness is an emergent property of the brain, which evolved over a 4.5-billion-year evolutionary struggle 4 to survive and reproduce. Others, dubbed mystical (or kooks) by the former, think consciousness creates the brain. Chicken or egg? Mind in body? Or body in mind? Some think consciousness is the brain. Behavioral psychologists, such as B.F. Skinner, have claimed that consciousness does not even exist, while others, Zen Buddhists for example, say that consciousness is all that exists.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of fascinating models for consciousness have sprung out of the human mind. Numerous esoteric mystical disciplines claim to have used techniques to alter and heighten consciousness since the beginning of written history. Lao-Tzu reminded us that it all comes from and flows back into the great Tao. Buddha contributed one of the first maps of human psychology, and some of the most enduring methods for changing brain states. Aristotle believed that consciousness was not constrained by physical processes. Descartes divided the mind from the divine. Darwin gave us the evolutionary perspective, and the mechanism of natural selection.
Wundt tried to make the study of consciousness a science through disciplined introspective techniques. Pavlov taught us about the roles of excitation, inhibition, and associative learning in the nervous system. Konrad Lorenz revealed the biological secrets of neural imprinting. Freud pointed out that part of us is conscious, most of us is unconscious. Jung went further claiming that all of the human species share a common rneta-cultural collective unconscious, full of genetic dreams, myths, and legendary archetypes. Does this imply the potential for a collective consciousness? Is the process of development and evolution one in which the unconscious is being made more conscious?
From William James we learned that consciousness is not a thing, but a process, and that there is a vast multitude of mostly uncharted, potential conscious states. Aleister Crowley integrated many of the esoteric mystical traditions of previous centuries with the scientific method, wedding them into a single system. Albert Hofmann discovered the explosive psychoactive effects of LSD in 1943, vastly multiplying the questions of spirit and matter. Neuroscientists, such as Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga, are discovering that the brain is actually composed of many submodules, each like a miniature brain in itself, making each of us a multitude of potential personalities. Where these people leave off is where this book begins.
Charles Tart, a psychologist at UC Davis, has pointed out that the ways in which scientists theorize about the complex interplay between the brain and consciousness is highly flavored by the prevailing technology of a particular time in history. For instance, in the beginning of the century Freud built his model of consciousness in accordance with the technology that was popular in his day – the technology of the steam engine and the science of hydraulics. We can see this clearly in many of his concepts. There is reference to the idea of how drives build up pressure, which needs to be released, and how fluid-like energies such as the libido need to flow. The symbolic release of libidinal tension in a dream then, is seen as functioning like a safety valve for libidinal build-up-so the system doesn’t explode–like the safety valve on the boiler of a steam engine. The safety valve is there so if the pressure reaches a certain threshold, it just bleeds steam off in a